Dublin Community Direct Action Re-Opens Homeless Shelter


11698699_438295332962253_1400356784382118200_nA group of concerned citizens and organisations all of whom work with the homeless community and have years’ experience attempting to tackle the devastating problem, have occupied a Council owned, yet vacant homeless shelter and have reopened it to members of the homeless community. This direct action comes in a bid to highlight the lack of support and understanding Dublin City Council and The Department of the Environment has towards those caught up the deepening housing crisis. Another aim of The Housing Network is to directly help a number of homeless people in Ireland’s capital.

On the morning of December 1st the body of a man was found wrapped up in a doorway just a stone’s throw from the Irish Parliament building. The man was Jonathan Corrie, he was homeless and just months before his lonely and unnecessary death he said these words. “I think every person should be given a chance, maybe some new scheme where they say ‘OK we’ll put you in here, we’ll give you a chance for a couple of months or something” he said, “Because there’s a huge amount of empty buildings which could be converted. I think everyone should have a chance every single person on their own should have a chance. Apart from that how can you solve homelessness?”

After his death and the subsequent outrage of the population, Dublin City Council and the Department of the Environment made a PR whirlwind of promises. The knee jerk, face saving reaction thrown at the issue came in the form of a promise to invest €50million, 280 cattle stall style beds and to brush the dust off an old promise to end the need for long-term homelessness by 2016. Yet now just seven months later very little has materialised except more failure. One activist who works with the homeless community said “They put out emergency bedding before Christmas because Jonathan, to them “just” a homeless man, died on the streets and when they got all the praise they needed they took the emergency bedding back which made the crisis worse.”

In response to the Occupation, Dublin City Council had an injunction prepared yet they failed to act upon it to date. The general feeling in the locality is that if Dublin City Council had upheld their responsibility to the homeless the hostel would already be reopened after it was cruelly closed at the height of the recession, this time with adequate and alternative support for homeless people who are struggling with mental health or other issues so everyone can feel safe in their homes.

Caroline Mitchell is a civil servant and volunteer in the newly reclaimed hostel. She explains why she got involved.
“I got involved because there is a problem with homelessness. The city is full of empty buildings. In this particular case Dublin City Council own this hostel and have to date, refused to begin any work in earnest of it. Then I heard this had happened … and so I bought paint and rollers and I painted the hall and stairs with other volunteers. I think that at this moment in Ireland people feel more empowered than ever to work together in solidarity against social injustice in their own communities because the government are failing to address these issues. My background is in the public service where I have access to the information on these issues and I hear the stories from people about how the problem affects them first hand. How could anyone sit by and allow these problems to go unchallenged?”

1411451178Between June 2014 and March 2015 the number of homeless children in Ireland’s capital increased by a staggering 62 per cent and the number of expected repossessions, or mortgage-related evictions this year is expected to be 25,000 compared with 8,164 which is already much too high in 2014. There are 10,000 people per month moving into rental accommodation and 1 in 4 people in rental accommodations are in fear of losing their homes. The number of available rental properties is at the lowest is had been in a decade. A recent study found that the current level of state assistance for people struggling with accommodation costs would only cover the cost of 1 out of 8 rental properties which is directly leaving the most vulnerable people at very high risk of becoming homeless.

Right now there are 42,000 people in Dublin alone on the list for social housing and 16,489 of those are children. Last year an average of 680 applications for mortgage-related repossessions were lodged every month in Ireland. David Hall of The Irish Mortgage Holders Association has said “The Government should be terrified of these figures which are only going to escalate. I estimate we will see 25,000 homes repossessed this year. This is not just a debt crisis. This is the next wave of the housing crisis.” A deadly cocktail of low rent supplements, increasingly high rents particularly in Dublin, increasing numbers of repossessions and a lack of rental accommodation is creating a system where the most vulnerable people, and even middle to low income earners are losing their accommodation and are becoming homeless.

The Simon Community is a community-based collective of charities who share common values and an ethos in tackling all forms of homelessness throughout Ireland. This year Niamh Randall (National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities in Ireland) said “This latest PRTB (Private Residential Tenancies Board) report showing that the cost of renting is continuing to rise nationally is of grave concern to us and to the people Simon Communities support across the country. With 10,000 people moving into rental properties each month, and supply of rental accommodation at its lowest level in a decade, urgent action is now needed to address a housing crisis that is pushing thousands of people to the edge of homelessness.”

Still the Department of the Environment this year refused to allocate enough funding to maintain homeless services at their current abysmal level. Dublin City Council requested €55million from the Department to maintain homeless services but was only granted €37.1million. When Dublin City Council highlighted that the full cost of retaining the services, was in fact €68million and that if the Department of the Environment did not make up the shortfall, the already inadequate services would have to be scaled back even further than they had been in recent years. Minister Alan Kelly’s response was to increase the fund by a mere €5.1million and requested local councils take from their own funds to donate a further €2million; still not coming close to the necessary amount to retain the full services. Managers at Dublin City Council quickly backed down and accepted the much lower sum.

Homeless-manDublin City Councils lack of action in relation to homelessness is the cause of much concern amongst charities and groups who are working in the capital. Jen, an activist based in Dublin explained “There is no sense of urgency coming from Dublin City Council. People can self-determine and take the power in their own lives without having to delegate to unelected managers whose interests are not the same as ours.” The idea that the council is there to support people has been utterly shattered now that people of Dublin are being hit with tax after tax yet the provision of services for particularly the most vulnerable have been withdrawn time and time again. “These unelected managers interests are extracting more money from the working class in the form of privatising our bin service and charging us for water twice and transferring that wealth to the people who gambled and lost; the bankers…”

Just after Jonathans death in Dublin City in December 2014 a number of very different voluntary organisations and action groups who work with the homeless began to have meetings and workshops together. There are many different angles and approaches that the different groups take to helping the homeless community but they agreed on two core things 1: They needed to work together and 2: The homeless crisis in Ireland is getting worse.

In May 2015 An Spréach, North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Commitee, Housing Action Now, Social Workers Action Network, The hub Ireland, Help the Hidden Homeless and Help 4 the Homeless Ballyfermot formally established The Housing Network with principles, structures and a set of demands. They had already been working within the homeless community including engaging with families and children facing life in hotels, B&Bs and even cars around the city. Using the experience of their combined careers they had been developing an analysis into why the steady increase in homelessness was occurring in Dublin and how communities were responding to the crisis.

27142_54_news_hub_22837_588x448Then with the Network set up they planned an action in Dublin City Council to highlight their choice not to tackle homelessness head on, or with any real motivation or realistic goals. The Network occupied Dublin City Council with four families, including a mother of one who was six months pregnant and who had been offered a sleeping bag when faced with homelessness. Other Occupees were a person with mental health issues who had been left to fend for themselves on the streets, a single mother with three children and a couple who had been told they had to split up to access emergency accommodation. The Dublin City Council building was occupied for 5 hours while The Housing Network was in negotiations with the heads of housing and homelessness of the Council. Eventually Dublin City Council gave in and gave The Housing Network a guarantee of accommodation for each of those cases.

On June 18th The Irish Housing Network Occupied Custom House containing the Department of the Environment, Community and Housing. They had two demands 1) a meeting with the minister or senior staff and 2) the immediate declaration of a housing and homelessness emergency. After much debate and discussion, the occupation of a central lobby and the arrival of the gardai, a meeting was agreed to with senior staff. The outcome was the Department heads stating they had no intention of declaring the housing situation a crisis, in fact they stated there was no housing crisis but they were tackling the issues around housing and homelessness, a statement the Network knew was false. The Network gave examples of cases, they explained the statistics but to no avail. The Department of the Environment said they were doing everything they could and government strategy was working, statements what were simply not true. The outcome of this occupation was for the Network to agree that along side the occupation of Council and Departmental offices they needed to use direct action to provide homes themselves.

On June 23rd the occupation of the offices of South Dublin County Council began. This time The Network and other activists supported a homeless couple who had been offered a sleeping bag rather than appropriate accommodation despite the fact that the gentleman suffered from severe epilepsy and had even been in a coma for a period of time. His partner was his carer and they had custody of his son for four days a week, yet they had not been offered suitable accommodation. For three days the activists held strong, but in a shock move they, along with the couple in need, were ruthlessly dragged through the judicial system and were served with injunctions. This case is still ongoing, but the attempt to stop The Network from highlighting inequality in Dublin City Councils treatment of the homeless community had the opposite effect. The Housing Network began to gain even more respect for their selfless methods of helping the most vulnerable people in society. More people began to consider the Irish government out of touch with the reality of the homeless crisis… yet 11% of all TD’s in Ireland are landlords and have direct experience with the troublesome rental market and refuse to consider rent caps as a viable solution to part of the problem.

Photo Credit, Ksenija Archipova.

Photo Credit, Ksenija Archipova.

During the height of the recession a number of support services were withdrawn in the city, one such service was Bolton Hostel number 38/39 Bolton Street. It had housed 17 homeless people until 2011 then in 2012 it was closed and abandoned. Even though Dublin City Council have allocated sums that reach into the millions for the maintenance of state owned buildings, used and disused, the building had been for the most part abandoned, leaving electrical boxes uncovered and patchwork repairs on minor fire damage. A few weeks ago The Network and a number of close supporters occupied Bolton Hostel and before long they had volunteers including builders, electricians, people wanting to clean and paint buzzing the doorbell and making contact via social media.

Three double bedrooms and three single bedrooms, three sets of bathrooms, a communal kitchen and even a facilities room were all in good condition but still had work to be done. Negotiations were opened with Dublin City Council within weeks of entering the building. After some promising steps Dublin City Council offered a deal to the occupiers: a positive partnership in the future between both sides with an exit from the premises. Of course The Bolt Hostel and the Irish Housing Network were ready after their previous experiences interacting with Dublin City Council. Both sides prepared their cases, Dublin City Council prepared injunctions and the Housing Network sent in their prepared defence, they are still awaiting a reply. A rally was called for the same day as the injunctions were expected to be issued as a counter attack. Supporters came to the newly named Bolt Hostel all day and community Outreach was kicked up a gear. Volunteers continued to rush forward, rooms were cleaned and developed, construction work began, families, couples and single homeless people viewed the space, gave their recommendations, and discussed their options. Donations began to pour in. Community members called in to the hostel to thank the activists for finally making use of the beautiful building that had been lifeless on their street for too long and for using it to help people again.

Seamus Farrell of The Housing Network was happy to announce “The Bolt Hostel was publicly opened on Friday the 3rd of July. It was owned by the Council and vacant since 2012 and it had originally been a hostel. Dublin City Council sited health and safety as the grounds for closure but questions have been raised about this by the local community and about the date of closure in 2012, at the height of the government’s austerity policy. On Friday 10th July, activists gathered at the GOP, the historic heart of Dublin resistance. 70 activists moved through the streets chanting “Who’s streets? Our streets! Who’s homes? Our homes!” It was a special moment to see the march meet the crowd waiting on them, cheering and welcoming the newly reclaimed home.”

ajai-chopra-imf-homeless-dublinWhen asked what is yet to come Seamus said “Preparing for Monday, a new week, a new battle and ensuring the movement continues to grow. The Irish Housing Network asked for something simple, the common sense that homes be homes, that buildings be put to use, that space is for the people based on need not greed. This is not a big step for the majority but it is radical because it challenges the fundamentals of power in our society, of the golden circle, the establishment and the economic, social and political interests of the elite and the system built to defend them. We stand defiant and in unity, building our community together. The battle does not stop here. It grows!”

Asked why they care enough to put themselves in the cross-hairs of the DCC’s injured ego this is what the volunteers had to say

John Heart – Of An Spréach and The Housing Network
“I suppose it all started around the crash and seeing all of these empty habitable homes around the country then coming to Dublin and seeing how many people were living on the streets. It seemed like a common-sense solution for me to put these homes to direct use. Through researching the housing crisis I came across An Spréach which is an anti-capitalist housing collective who push forward a radical critique of the housing crisis as not a transient issue but as a permanent issue within society as long as capitalism exists. For me it seems like the only viable option going forward was to organize direct action and encourage a do it yourself attitude to elevate the urgent issue of the permanent housing crisis, while at the same time working towards the abolishment of this problem permanently. I became involved in the direct action movement to help people left vulnerable by capitalism. I was studying law in college, but I left due to the overwhelming need for action on this issue. I have no problem putting my legal future on hold because all of the petitions and all of the lobbying in the world will never be as powerful as a small group of dedicated people carrying out direct action.”

11722583_438295759628877_4955245452993366712_oBrenda – Came home from New Zealand to get involved in the new protest movements that are happening around the country in Ireland.
“I saw the people marching last December. I sat at my laptop and cried. I was just so happy that the people were rising. I kept going on Call For A Revolution Ireland and onto different facebook pages that were keeping people updated on events and movements. I felt the need to come home but I had to sell up everything in New Zealand first. Eventually I landed home on April 24th. Since I have been back, I have seen the homeless on the streets, including children. I have met with people who have been effected by corrupt Gardaí (Irish police) and have witnessed guards assaulting my people to the point that myself and a woman I don’t even know had to protect three children outside the Dáil. My mothering instinct just kicked in. I was standing at a peaceful protest that was heavily policed and the irony of having to protect children from “the guardians of the peace” was not lost on me… They should be “guardians of chaos.” ”

Kiara – Of Lending Hand and The Housing Network
“I got involved because I work with the homeless on the streets of Dublin twice a week. We are a volunteer group and we feed upwards of 180 people each night. I’m sick of Dublin City Council, the government and the Department of the Environment telling us there is no accommodation for these forgotten souls, that’s what I think they are, forgotten people. I wanted to highlight their lack of interest and lack of action. They say they care but it’s all talk. They put out emergency bedding before Christmas because Jonathan, to them “just” a homeless man, died on the streets and when they got all the praise they needed they took the emergency bedding back which made the crisis worse. How you can expect people to get anywhere with no support from the government is beyond me! That’s why I feel that it’s time for the people to take action to bring communities together, bring humanity back and show that the people care about each other. I feel very passionately about this because I feed the homeless. I sit in my car and cry knowing I left behind good people that the government won’t take a chance on.”



About Author

Jennifer Baker is the founder and editor of Revolution News - Contact us with inquiries, tips, corrections at - revnewsmedia@gmail.com